Film Review: Triple 9

Triple 9 Poster

Triple 9 Plot Summary:

Fueled by personal reasons, a criminal (Chiwetel Ejiofor) rounds up a group of crooked cops to pull off a heist for a dangerous crime lord (Kate Winslet), but it’s two innocent cops who end up in the cross hairs.

There’s a lot to admire about Triple 9.  The film looks grimy and gorgeous, the action is pitch perfect and the tension keeps you on edge.  The problem is that pesky notion of character and story.  Yeah, that whole thing.  While all these great actors are doing a superb job with what’s written, we don’t get a good sense of who their characters are, which separates it from other great crime dramas like The Departed or Heat.  The same can be said for the story.  I’m all for keeping mystery and suspense, but it goes too far here.  It takes forever for basic plot elements and character motivations to unravel.

Triple 9 pic 1

Speaking of characters, let’s talk about all those actors.  We have a cavalcade of great performers, and they all deliver.  Chiwetel Ejiofor.  Casey Affleck.  Woody Harrelson.  Kate Winslet.  Aaron Paul.  Even Anthony Mackie, who I’m normally not a fan of, comes into his own as an on edge corrupt cop.  Even lesser known guys like Clifton Collins Jr. get really interesting at the end, but that’s the problem.  Many of these characters feel very generic until the last act when we finally figure out who they are.  You could argue that’s a strength, but if I can’t get emotionally invested in these people from the start, the end doesn’t feel as strong.  There are some characters like Casey Affleck and Woody Harrelson who have certain character ticks and personalities, but it feels like they had to elevate from what was on the page.

There are other characters like Ejiofor and Winslet who could have had a great conflict throughout the whole movie, but it’s completely undersold until the last scene.  While we understand Ejiofor’s motivations early on, there’s not a whole lot to this guy other than looking really pissed off.  Winslet also needed to be in the movie a hell of a lot more.  There was a great villain here, but we barely get to know her.  The relationship between Casey Affleck and Anthony Mackie, who become reluctant partners, also scratches the surface of a strong relationship, which is why their ending doesn’t feel as impactful.  Another pass at the script to build these relationships could have worked wonders for this movie.

Triple 9 pic 2

What does work in spades is the action.  I always love a great bank heist scene, and they deliver a doozy of one in the first ten minutes.  There’s also a great foot chase in the middle of the film.  The problem is the foot chase goes on way too long, but it doesn’t have a huge impact on the story aside from some character development.  That’s my other main gripe – the film stalls.  We understand these guys are in debt to somebody and being forced to commit all these heists, but it’s scattered and vague.

The director of this was John Hillcoat, who also helmed Lawless (2012) and The Road (2009).  That doesn’t surprise me.  Both movies have a lot of great elements, but very little substance in terms of character and story.  While Hillcoat knows how to do a lot of things well, he’s not the greatest storyteller.  Triple 9 was definitely his best effort though, so maybe he’ll put it all together with his next film.  Despite all its flaws, the length runs under two hours and ended strong.  It’s a solid effort, but could have been so much more.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.